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southern africa: music



South Africa's Zulu and Xhosa people share a musical style, language, some customs, and some living space. Both enjoy a strong tradition of singing to celebrate special events or just to pass the time during daily chores. The African call-and-response choral style is used in much of their music. Mouth harps, clapping and rattles are also popular.

One of the most interesting traditional instruments is the single-string gourd bow, uhadi in Xhosa or ugubhu in Zulu. Similar to a single-string violin, this simple instrument produces a low humming sound. One of its most famous players was the late Zulu Princess Constance Magogo, mother of Inkatha Freedom Party chief and South African Minister of Home Affairs Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

Xhosa thumb piano from Zimbabwe
Xhosa thumb piano from Zimbabwe
Masalela (Xhosa)
This fighting song is performed by a group of teen-age Xhosa boys as part of a martial arts tradition. The youngsters use sticks to fight each other, singing songs, like this one to raise their spirits. Masalela in Xhosa means "cowards." The boys sing: "Punch them for me, the cowards!" And, "that's cowards' business. They can just go away, the cowards".
Listen to the song. Music Credit: ILAM, Rhodes University
Zulu igubu from South Africa
Hayi Amambete Ngolwimi (Xhosa)
Despite its plaintive melody, this Xhosa song actually mocks another tribe - its title means "Amambete - A Tribe of Liars." It is a popular song and was traditionally played with an uhadi , a simple calabash instrument with a one-string bow made from a piece of stiff grass. Rarely played anymore, the uhadi was usually played in the evening, during dinner or before going to sleep.
Listen to the song. Music Credit: ILAM, Rhodes University

Bloemfontein (Zulu)
This typical Zulu love song is named for Bloemfontein - one of South Africa's industrial centers, and now one of country's three capitals. Bloemfontein is the city where the main character's sweetheart has gone to find work. Sadly, he does not write to her. The song is played on an umakhweyana, a Zulu version of the Xhosa uhadi bow and calabash.
Listen to the song. Music Credit: ILAM, Rhodes University

Musengu (Njanja)
This song is played to appease the mhondoro spirits, who are central deities of the Karanga people of southeastern Zimbabwe. In this song, and many like it, the Mhondoro spirits are invoked at a ceremony involving the Karanga chief. The tune is played with njari, one of several different types of mbira played in Zimbabwe.
Listen to the song. Music Credit: ILAM, Rhodes University


Photo and Object Credits:
American Museum of Natural History
Mbria/thumb piano, 1939 - Igubu, 1900
Zulu igubu from South AfricaZulu igubu from South Africa


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